Book Review of “Brides in the Sky: Stories and a Novella” by Cary Holladay.
This book is a collection of eight short stories and a novella, which include the following:
- Brides in the Sky
- Comanche Queen
- Fairy Tales
- Interview with Etta Place, Sweetheart of the Sundance Kid
- Ghost Walk
- Hay Season
- A Thousand Stings – a novella
Goodreads describes this collection as follows:
In the title story, two women in 1850s Virginia marry brothers who promptly uproot them to follow the Oregon Trail west, until an unexpected shift of allegiance separates the sisters forever. Elsewhere in the book, a young boy’s kidnapping ignites tensions in a sorority house; frontier figure Cynthia Ann Parker struggles upon her return to her birth community from the Comanche people with whom she’s lived a full life; and in a metafictional twist, a gothic tale resonates in the present. In the novella, “A Thousand Stings,” three sisters come of age in the 1960s over a long summer of small-town scandal and universal stakes.
These sounded fascinating, and this was the primary reason I requested this book. Of course, I’ve always been a fan of short stories and novellas, since the shorter forms mean that authors need to be far more concise and focused with their prose. More importantly, this form emphasizes the need for the writer to make some kind of point with their stories. Although most of Holladay’s stories here seem to have some kind of a point, I’m a bit of two minds about this collection. On the one hand, while I generally enjoyed Holladay’s writing here, I think my biggest problem with these stories was that I wasn’t always sure what she was trying to say. This was particularly true with her novella, which felt more like a stream of consciousness journal entry than a story, particularly because the timeline was confusing, with the narrator referring back to things in her past, and then adding some foreshadowing of things in the future. In general, I’m not a fan of foreshadowing especially when I feel that what the narrator is telling us about something ahead of the timeline of the story, could be a spoiler.
Goodreads also said that these “short stories and novella that make up Brides in the Sky has sisterhood, in all its urgency and peril, at its heart. … These are just some of the lives, shaped by migrations, yearning, and the long shadows of myth, which Holladay creates.” I can certainly agree with the migrations part, since it seems to me that the one thing that united all of these stories was about people getting separated from someone or taken away from something (hence the title of this review). Furthermore, Goodreads says that Holladay “crafts [these stories] with subtle humor, a stunning sense of place, and an unerring eye for character.” This too I can mostly agree with, with the exception being that I’m not sure how “stunning” her sense of place was. In fact, in some of these stories, if Holladay hadn’t said so, I might not have known where these stories were taking place or in which era they belonged.
Overall, I felt that the short stories were stronger than the novella, and I think that Holladay has found her niche with them, and should stick with that format. As I’ve already noted, the novella didn’t work well for me, and the parts of it felt somewhat disjointed as well, with some chapters feeling more wholly formed than others. It was only after reading this collection that I went back to look at the title pages and found out that chapters from this novella had been published as short stories in different publications. This made perfect sense to me, and only reinforced my belief that Holladay’s strongest writing comes out when she’s limited to a shorter form.
All that said, I particularly enjoyed the titular story and “Interview with Etta Place, Sweetheart of the Sundance Kid,” which I found to be very amusing, and the most engagingly written. All of this makes me want to recommend this book, but forewarn the readers that there are some inconsistencies here. That’s why I’ll give it three out of five stars, and hope that Holladay can polish her craft for any future collections she decides to publish.
Ohio University – Swallow Press will release “Brides in the Sky” by Cary Holladay on January 14, 2019. This book is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (Walmart) eBooks, eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Better World Books (to promote libraries and world literary) and Alibris, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.